Photo courtesy of High QA

Automation is gaining momentum as manufacturers seek resiliency, flexibility, and connectivity. Panelists at two GIE Media Manufacturing Group webinars recently addressed how to implement automation and grab opportunities to become the factories of the future.

Today’s Motor Vehicles (TMV): What automation trends should we watch out for?

Randy Woolridge, global product manager for integration and automation/technical proposal manager at Ascent Aerospace: There’s a lot of discussion on Industry 4.0. As soon as a consumer makes a decision, it’s disseminated throughout the manufacturing process of that product, getting that closer to reality was probably very true for some businesses.

In the future, that can alter your SAP system, it can alter your manufacturing plan based on a given customer’s input at the very beginning. That’s a fascinating idea – being able to tie all of our processes, equipment, software, quality checks, all the way down to decisions for how much material to order.

TMV: How can automation help a company solve existing problems?

Justin Via, global product manager for drilling & fastening technology at Ascent Aerospace: The biggest and the hardest thing is to define what your problem is because every company has different pain points. Automation can solve problems within a facility such as increasing productivity, eliminating waste, reducing workplace fatigue, minimizing human errors, and most of all, preventing bottlenecks from occurring on your shop floor…. Everybody’s going to have a different pain point, so once that’s defined, that’s when other personnel can come in and help you decide how automation will support you.

Frank Langro, director of product market management for pneumatic automation products at Festo: Automation... can mean a variety of different things, whether talking about automated retrieval systems, a 6-axis robot, or even a small assembly jig that helps in a manual assembly process. The key things are flexibility, minimizing downtime, and improving efficiencies. Automated solutions, whether big or small steps, really can address these.

TMV: What types of processes offer the best return on investment (ROI), when automated?

Jeff Tyl, North American sales manager for fabrication at Murata Machinery USA: Something that’s very labor intensive. With fabricated equipment like turret punch presses and fiber lasers and turning machines, you’re loading material on and off the machine. It’s very repetitive, boring, labor intensive work. Your automated system has great gantry parts loading and unloading systems, so all you’re doing is putting components on the side of the machine, and the machine is picking it up and doing all the work and dropping it off for the next process.

You can calculate the cost to make a part, the reduction of production costs, minimized errors, and product damage. However, you can’t calculate improving employee safety. The most important thing is retaining valued, tenured employees. If you are going to implement automation, don’t get rid of those employees. Retrain and revitalize them.

TMV: How can researchers and universities optimize automation processes?

Ed Johnson, vice president of sales at THK America Inc: One very significant thing in the marketplace is to be able to integrate mechanical and electrical components. A lot of folks like myself have some expertise in the mechanical side, but not so much on the electrical side. It’s really important to get the integrators involved, because typically, integrators are going to have the ability to marry those two technologies together – electrical, which controls vision, sensors, all that kind of stuff – and mechanical to be able to make the system get to a high level of precision.

There’s a tendency to be fairly siloed, where you have good electrical people, and you have good mechanical people. That’s an opportunity for our universities to bring students into the workplace and into industry who have the capability of understanding both significant components.

TMV: How can I streamline data collection to get the information to optimize automated manufacturing systems?

Brian Johnson, automation specialist at Zeiss Industrial Quality Solutions: Newer software packages can take all the collected data and send it to a data system to be analyzed, offering visual indicators in instances when there could be something wrong in your process. But you also generate numerical data, and you can do automatic process control with it, and then have it available to you in reports that also can be automated and sent to your supply base or customers. Manufacturers can take some of the old, manual systems and implement automation. For example, various types of inspection equipment can be automated. Creating a feedback loop that gives a more robust, automated system allows you to go all the way from the planning phase through to delivery.

TMV: What is your definition of a digital transformation?

Sam Golan, founder and CEO of High QA: It’s the conversion of current manufacturing and quality into automation and integration. And integration is the emphasis toward a unified process enabling real-time information and decision making when it’s needed, either by a machine or a person.

Brad Klippstein, supervisor, product specialist at Okuma America Corp: Digitization helps you identify problems and enables you to make educated business decisions based on calculations, rather than any kind of perception.

It’s not entirely about the technology but also about change and change management. It’s just as much about that underlying technology as it is about a cultural shift for your company.

TMV: Why is machine connectivity essential, and how can Industry 4.0 or IoT help businesses?

Klippstein: The speed of business today, I think we all can agree, is much faster now than it ever has been. So, you need to be able to equip your teams to these changing environments, you need to store and use the data, you’re going to need to provide these tools so that they can react in a much quicker fashion.

Using and storing this data provides a means to anticipate conditions to project results for planning and forecasting. So, it’s a really valuable corporate resource that aids in decision making, maximizing profits, improving your products and services, as well as customer satisfaction.

Data is an asset. It’s one of the best things that you can do to encourage your employees to be more data focused, so that you can reap any rewards from using that data.

Photos courtesy of Okuma (top), High QA (bottom)

TMV: What core tools do manufacturers need to connect factories?

Golan: Before getting into tools for connecting the factory, you may need to map data flow. It’s not just about the connectivity on one piece of the process. The idea is how to connect all of it. The question is how the data flows from the point of a quote request until it’s out from the warehouse and going to the customer. Map your process before picking up any tool. We need to look into software that enables creation of instructions, either recording or downstream for CNC machines and quality machines.

With connections, you have lots of data, but where do the data go? You should have a tool or a software that can collect in real-time and convert it to real-time valuable information to enable you or a machine to make a real-time decision. This is not a theory, it’s working very well. I wish in 100% of the industry, but I would say today, maybe 10% or 15% of the industry.

TMV: How can software be optimized to cut costs and boost uptime?

Rob Longfellow, director of IIoT at TechSolve Inc: We like to focus, in the beginning, on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), which is basically a utilization of the factory floor assets, in addition to the quality of the parts being produced. If you ask management what they think the utilization of this machine is, typically they’ll say, 80%, 90%, or we don’t have any time in between anything, so it’s completely utilized. But in most cases, when you start to measure how much they’re using that system, it’s anywhere between 40% and 60%.

For a machine generating about $200,000 of revenue per year, improving productivity just by making sure that it’s running 5% more often, that’s going to be an additional $10,000 in incremental revenue per year. If you’ve got 100 assets in the plant, then you know, that’s a 100x increase on just that one machine.

You may think, “I don't have any more capacity, and I’ve got five machines doing one process.” But, you can go back and figure out that you’re only running at 60%, you’ve got 40% additional capacity. So, better managing production and people, gives you a chance to avoid investing.

TMV: How will technology continue to evolve?

Klippstein: You’re already seeing this with 5G technology. 5G is crazy fast. It’s something like 10x faster than 4G, it’s got almost zero latency with about a 1ms lag time, which is pretty close to real-time. It also allows you to connect multiple devices, or smart devices simultaneously.

We can create faster reaction times with real-time data obtained from sensors. We’re going to see examples where we’re tying into blockchain technology. In machine tools, you’ve got workholding to fixture stock material, and when we’re clamping, the workholding is going to ask for proper authorization by the operator that’s performing that action. That added security access point is going to need to be read very quickly, through a control system to unlock that clamp.

We’re also going to see enhancements in digital twin technology, so maintenance models, process analysis, things like that for better reliability of your process. And then last, I’ve seen some examples with interesting camera feeds and being able to predict operator movements before they happen, letting them know they should be using two hands instead of one hand to properly tighten that bolt during the assembly process.

About the author: Michelle Jacobson is an assistant editor for TMV. She can be reached at 216.393.0323 or

Ascent Aerospace


High QA

Muratec Machinery USA

Okuma America Corp.

TechSolve Inc.

THK America Inc.

Zeiss Industrial Quality Solutions